They put the madness in March: this year’s underdogs and why they pose a threat
They bust our brackets, but they warm our hearts. It seems like just yesterday when 16-seeded UMBC took down No. 1 Virginia to shock the nation … queue UMBC’s exhilarating social media presence. It’s upset season in college basketball, and there are a few underdogs who may surprise you this March.
After plowing through the Atlantic Sun conference season with a 14-2 record, Liberty defeated the regular-season conference champion Lipscomb 74-68 in the championship game to seal a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Seeded at the No. 12 spot in the Eastern region, the Flames will take on Mississippi State in the first round.
Despite a tough draw surrounded by the likes of Duke and Michigan State, the Flames have held their opponents to an average of just 60 points per game, ranking sixth in the country. A dominant defensive performance on the season helped the Flames to a 12-5 record on the road, compared to the Bulldogs’ 9-7.
The Flames have turned to junior Scottie James to lead the scoring charge, posting 13 points per game with the third-highest field-goal percentage in the nation at 67 percent. That mark falls just shy of Duke’s Zion Williamson and Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke, who both shoot 69 percent. James also leads the team with almost nine rebounds per game, ranking in the top 50 across the country. With efforts guided by James and company, the Flames earned their highest seeding in school history. They enter the tournament for just the fourth time in the program's existence, and the first since 2013.
While Murray State lost to Belmont in the regular season, the Racers found redemption during the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament when they met again in the championship game.
The Racers are led by sophomore sensation Ja Morant, who leads the country in assists per game with 10 and holds the No. 8 spot nationally for points per game at 24.6. Also posting 81 percent from the free-throw line and 50 percent from the field, Morant guided his team to a 27-4 record.
Garnering a No. 12 seed in the tournament, the Racers prepare to take on 5-seeded Marquette in the first round. The Racers make their 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and second consecutive after making the big dance last year. The Racers' last win in the tournament came in 2012 as a 6 seed against Colorado State.
Sealing wins over Seton Hall and Butler in the early part of the season, Saint Louis pulled out a two-point victory over Saint Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship to secure its spot as the No. 13 seed in the East.
A telling point of the Billikens' season comes out of their four-point loss to Houston on the Cougars' home court. During the matchup, the Billikens went on multiple runs to keep the Cougars on their feet. While it ended in a loss, the Billikens held multiple leads, and sophomore Jordan Goodwin registered his first double-double of the season.
Senior Javon Bess maintains the title of leading scorer for the Billikens as he drops 15 points per game. In his 36 minutes per game, Bess grabs seven rebounds per game. Tramaine Isabell Jr. and Jordan Godwin join him in double-digit scoring per game with 14 and 10, respectively.
This is the first appearance for the Billikens in the tournament since 2014 and their 10th overall. They rank in the top 100 in BPI and allow just 63 points per game, which is top in the 25 in the country.